A young Girl Scout became just the third rattlesnake bite victim in Effie Yeaw Nature Center's 30-year history last Saturday.
The girl, who Effie Yeaw Executive Director Torey Byington said was between the ages of 6 and 8, was playing on a park structure when she picked up a thick wooden disc. A baby rattlesnake hiding under the object bit her finger, sending her to a nearby hospital in an ambulance.
The playground was roped off while the viper was collected and placed in a plastic bucket, where it shook loudly until being deposited further into the 100-acre nature preserve. The girl was expected to fully recover, Byington said.
"We can try to put some sort of protocol in place, but (the rattlesnakes) are in the preserve and that’s their home," Byington said. "Snakes are hunting this time of year, and unfortunately this little girl got bit."
Two Girl Scout badge ceremonies had taken place that morning near the playground, said Amanda Kearney Price, the senior director of marketing and innovation strategies for Girl Scouts Heart of Central California. The bite occurred after the ceremonies' conclusion when the girl was with her family, and Price found out about it on Wednesday.
"We were happy to learn that the injuries are being cared for and that our Girl Scout is fine," Price wrote in an email. "The incident is a real-life example of what Girl Scouting teaches and emphasizes: use caution when exploring environments shared by other living things."
Rattlesnakes tend to become more active and visible as temperatures warm in late spring through the summer. When not basking out in the sun, they often linger under a rock or beneath a bush.
An estimated 100 rattlesnakes slither around the nature preserve, said wildlife biologist Mike Cardwell, who worked at Effie Yeaw before moving to Arizona six months ago. About a dozen of those wear tracking devices that show they often linger just off hiking trails, intent on avoiding contact with unsuspecting adventurers.
"Imagine living your life an inch off the ground and you have something 60 or 70 inches tall come along and bother you," Cardwell said. "Snakes aren’t looking for encounters with people. They tend to be pretty shy and cryptic."
Most people think rattlesnake bites are more deadly than they actually are, Cardwell said. The University of Florida Department of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation estimates about six of the 8,000 Americans bitten by venomous snakes per year die from their wounds.
Bite victims should seek professional medical attention immediately and not try any home remedies in the meantime, Cardwell said.
"Your best snakebite kit is your cellphone or your car keys," he said.
A 79-year-old man was airlifted off Mt. Tamalpais to a Walnut Creek hospital in April after being bitten several times by a rattlesnake. Some Folsom Lake boaters got a rude surprise last year when a viper crept onto their vessel.
An experienced snake wrangler died in Oklahoma last week when the 42-inch rattlesnake he grabbed bit him on both hands, causing his heart to give out en route to the hospital, according to the Tulsa World.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife offers the following tips for avoiding rattlesnake bites:
- Stay alert. After a cool night, rattlesnakes will try to warm up by basking in the sun. A startled rattlesnake may not rattle before striking.
- Wear sturdy boots and loose-fitting pants. Never go barefoot or wear sandals when walking through brushy, wild areas.
- Stick to well-used trails. Avoid tall grass, weeds and heavy underbrush where snakes may hide during warmer parts of the day.
- Don’t put your hands or feet where you can’t see. Never grab “sticks” or “branches” while swimming. Rattlesnakes can swim.
- Never hike alone. Leash your dog when hiking. Talk to your veterinarian about canine rattlesnake vaccines and what to do if your pet is bitten.
Benjy Egel: (916) 321-1052, @BenjyEgel